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Wednesday, December 21, 2011
AJ Allmendinger to drive No. 22

By David Newton
ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- AJ Allmendinger was named the new driver of the No. 22 Sprint Cup car at Penske Racing on Wednesday.

Allmendinger finished 15th in points this past season driving the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. He became available after RPM lost primary sponsor Best Buy to Roush Fenway Racing.

"I am honored to join Penske Racing and I will do my very best to continue to build on the standard of excellence established across the organization," Allmendinger said in a statement.

Allmendinger, who will have Todd Gordon as his crew chief, replaces 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch, who reached a "mutual'' agreement to leave Penske Racing after a 2011 season in which he had several profanity-laced run-ins with the media and his team.

The 30-year-old was picked over David Ragan, who interviewed with the Dodge team and sponsor Shell Pennzoil shortly after Busch was released.

"AJ is a very talented and motivated driver and we believe he will be a terrific fit with our team," owner Roger Penske said in a statement. "He has shown great promise and consistent results on the track over the last few seasons and working with Todd and the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge team will allow him to take the next step and compete for race wins and a spot in the Chase in 2012."

Ragan could be a candidate for the 43, although sources said the team has talked to Busch twice about the job and he appears to be the front-runner if sponsorship can be found.

Ragan also could drive for Phoenix Racing, with which he had a tentative agreement before pursuing the 22.

In 152 career starts, Allmendinger has no wins and four top-five finishes. He is coming off his best season, with 10 of his career 26 top-10 finishes.

RPM released a statement Tuesday saying it plans to remain a two-car team in 2012.

"Although it is very disappointing that Best Buy is changing directions at this late date, we wish all of our friends there the best in their future endeavors," RPM co-owner Richard Petty said in a statement.

"Our plan has always been to run a two-car team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2012 and we are continuing down that path. We have several partners that remain committed to the No. 43 team. We will move forward and explore all of our options in regard to the No. 43 program in the coming weeks."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.